Wednesday, July 9, 2008

War of reports over Quigley

Commission considers ways to preserve upper canyon

Express Staff Writer

Hailey City attorney Ned Williamson is helping to guide Hailey’s P&Z commission through the annexation request process for Quigley Canyon

The latest public hearing on a request to annex 1,109 acres of Quigley Canyon into Hailey's city limits yielded conflicting reports from wildlife specialists and further discussions about the 379-home development proposal in light of the city's 2025 Comprehensive Plan.

The proposed development stretches 2 1/2 miles into Quigley Canyon and includes plans for an 18-hole golf course, expanded trails and a year-round, clubhouse/Nordic facility.

At a public hearing last month, Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff biologist Mike McDonald reiterated an earlier Fish and Game Department recommendation that developers Quigley Green Owners LLC abandon plans to build in Dead Man's' Gulch, which extends for about a mile north of Quigley Pond. F&G also recommended reducing housing densities along a mile-long narrow canyon east of the pond where Elk and mule deer spend the winter.

Fifty-four homes on sites ranging from 1 to 120 acres in size are planned for these two areas under developer David Hennessy's plans.

P&Z Chairwoman Stefanie Marvel said Hennessy could build only five homes in those areas under existing county zoning requirements.

But Lonn Kuck, a former Idaho Fish and Game biologist hired by Hennessy to study wildlife impacts associated with the proposed development, took issue with the Fish and Game recommendation at a public hearing Monday night. He said that mule deer and Elk were able to adapt to habitat disturbances, like the proposed development, far beyond the expectations of most Fish and Game biologists.

Kuck, who worked for Fish and Game for 32 years, based his opinion on an eight-year study of the impacts of phosphate mining on Elk, deer and moose in southeastern Idaho. He said Elk and deer populations actually increased in the area of the mines, against all expectations.

Kuck also said that mule deer populations in high-elevation wintering ranges like Quigley Canyon would inevitably decline with or without the development, due to decreasing productivity of sagebrush habitat.

"In my lifetime I expect there will no longer be deer in Quigley Canyon in any case," he said.

About 200 animal species live in Quigley Canyon at various times during the year, including birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. P&Z chairwoman Stefanie Marvel said wildlife impact concerns should extend to the mountain lion, coyotes, wolves, badgers and other species known to exist in the upper canyon.

Hennessy has previously stated that developing the upper canyon home sites, which are in environmentally sensitive areas, is crucial to financing amenities, which he is offering the city. Those amenities include an 18-hole golf course, expanded Nordic trails and a clubhouse and restaurant high on a hill on the south side of the canyon.

Yet the commission was unanimous Monday night in wanting to prohibit building in the upper canyon. They suggested condensing the development closer to the city, and reducing the golf course to a nine-hole design, as possible ways to preserve the upper canyon.

"I see this as the same number of houses with less land," said Commissioner Owen Scanlon.

Former Blaine County Recreation District employee and Ketchum restaurateur Keith Perry said the clubhouse/Nordic center design was based on an 18-hole course and that a nine-hole course would not be economically viable.

Commissioner Mark Spears said the elevated roof height of the planned clubhouse/Nordic center above the valley floor (about 70 feet) was not in keeping with Hailey's 2025 Comprehensive Plan, which prohibits building on hillsides whenever possible.

"It is my job to follow this bible," he said, referring to the book of city codes, including the Comprehensive Plan. "I don't think I am supposed to accommodate this bible to your business plan."

Commissioner Geoffrey Moore said he had no problem with the location of the clubhouse and looked forward to having dinner high above the canyon.

City Planner Beth Robrahn said the P&Z commission's immediate goals were to assess whether the proposed annexation will be "harmonious and in accord with the specific goals and policies of applicable components of the Comprehensive Plan, and whether the annexation generally complies with the Comprehensive Plan.

"Unfortunately we don't have an ordinance relating to whether or not a site is a good place to have dinner." She said.

"The city can annex all, part, or none of the property," said city attorney Ned Williamson. "If the city is going to annex, they should know what it is going to look like. The city could annex the entire property and at the same time limit building north of the pond."

He said the city has "basically a blank piece of paper" with regard to what it can expect of the developers during the annexation process, including discretion over lot sizes, the length and location of streets and sidewalks, as well as infrastructure and open space requirements within the development.

Several members of the community have called for active playing fields within the development or provided off-site.

Yet if the city's conditions for annexation become to strict, developer David Hennessy could develop under county zoning requirements, which he indicated Monday night would mean a closing of the trails "in order to maintain the value of the homes."

Commissioner Michael Pogue suggested the city could seek conservation easements within the annexation to preserve the upper canyon property. Moore suggested that transfers of development rights (TDR's) could achieve the same goal as conservation easements.

Conservation easements offer property owners tax incentives in exchange for donations of environmentally sensitive lands. TDR's offer developers the option of swapping development rights in environmentally sensitive areas for rights elsewhere.

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